Elf (film)

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A man dressed like an elf stands between the letters "e" and "f".
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJon Favreau
Produced by
Written byDavid Berenbaum
Narrated byBob Newhart
Music byJohn Debney
CinematographyGreg Gardiner
Edited byDan Lebental
Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • November 7, 2003 (2003-11-07)
Running time
95 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[2]
Budget$33 million[1]
Box office$220.9 million[1]

Elf is a 2003 American Christmas comedy film directed by Jon Favreau and written by David Berenbaum. Starring Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Tay, Ed Asner and Bob Newhart, the film centers on Buddy, a human who was adopted and raised by Santa's elves, to which he learns about this and heads to New York City to meet his biological father while also spreading Christmas cheer in a world of cynics in the process.

Elf was released in the United States on November 7, 2003 by New Line Cinema to critical and commercial success, grossing $220 million worldwide against a $33 million budget. Ferrell’s performance as Buddy the Elf was praised by audiences and critics alike, with many calling it one of his best performances. It inspired the 2010 Broadway musical Elf: The Musical and NBC's 2014 stop-motion animated television special Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas. It is often listed among the greatest Christmas films of all-time.[3][4][5]


On one Christmas Eve, a baby boy at an orphanage crawls into Santa Claus's sack and is unwittingly transported back to the North Pole. When discovered at the workshop, the elves name him Buddy after the brand label on his diaper, and Papa Elf adopts and raises him. Buddy grows up at the North Pole believing he is an elf and accepted by the elf community, but due to his human size is unable to keep up with the other elves and demoted to the demeaning job of toy testing. When Buddy overhears that he is a human, Papa Elf explains that Buddy was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells, and given up for adoption. Susan subsequently died and Walter, who now works for a children's book publisher at the Empire State Building in New York City, is unaware of Buddy's existence. To Buddy's horror, Santa reveals that Walter is on the naughty list due to his callous and unscrupulous demeanor, but suggests Buddy could help redeem him.

Buddy promptly travels to New York and finds his father at work, but Walter dismisses him as a dysfunctional christmas-gram messenger and has him removed from the premises. Inspired by a sarcastic remark from a security guard, Buddy heads to a Gimbels department store where the manager mistakes him for an employee. At the store's Santa Land, he meets Jovie, an unenthusiastic employee to whom he is instantly smitten. After hearing that Santa will be at the store the following day, Buddy jubilantly decorates Santa Land overnight. When Buddy realizes that the Gimbels Santa is not the real Santa, he unmasks him and causes a wild tumult in the store that lands Buddy in jail. Walter reluctantly bails him out and takes him to a doctor for a DNA test, which confirms that Buddy is in fact his long-lost son. The doctor convinces Walter to take Buddy home to meet his stepmother Emily and twelve-year-old half-brother Michael. Walter and Michael are put off by Buddy's odd behavior, but Emily insists that they care for him until he "recovers".

Michael warms up to Buddy after he defends him from a gang of bullies in a snowball fight and Michael encourages Buddy to ask Jovie on a date. During the date, the two fall in love. Walter's boss, Fulton Greenway, citing the failure of the company's most recent book, expects a new book by Christmas Eve, so Walter and his team try to hire best-selling children's author Miles Finch. Buddy interrupts a meeting between Walter's team and Finch to boast of his newfound love and mistakes Finch, who has dwarfism, for an elf. Buddy unintentionally insults Finch and pesters him into losing his temper and walking out on Walter, who takes his frustration out on Buddy and harshly disowns him. Heartbroken, Buddy leaves a note for Walter, Emily, and Michael and wanders about the streets, lamenting that he does not fit in anywhere. On Christmas Eve, after finding Finch's notebook full of ideas, Walter and his team scramble to create a book to pitch. Greenway is prepared to hear the pitch when Michael, who found Buddy's note, arrives and informs Walter that Buddy is gone. Realizing he was wrong and disallowed from rescheduling, Walter resigns and leaves with Michael to find Buddy.

Santa's sleigh crashes in Central Park, attracting a large crowd. Buddy finds Santa, who explains that the sleigh has lost its engine and cannot fly without it due to a shortage of Christmas spirit. Buddy finds the engine and is reunited with Walter and Michael. Walter apologizes to Buddy and accepts him as his son; Buddy then takes them to meet Santa. Michael takes Santa's list and reads it in front of television news cameras gathered outside the park, proving that Santa Claus is real. The Central Park Rangers, who have a grudge against Santa for placing them on the naughty list, chase the sleigh as Buddy tries to reattach the engine. Jovie leads the crowd in singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," helping raise enough Christmas spirit to fully power the sleigh. By next Christmas, Walter has started his own publishing company with a best-selling book about Buddy's adventures. Buddy and Jovie, now married, bring their newborn daughter Suzie to visit Papa Elf.


  • Will Ferrell as Buddy, aka "Buddy the Elf", an eccentric human who was raised by Santa's elves.
  • James Caan as Walter Hobbs, a children's book publisher and Buddy's biological father.
  • Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, an unenthusiastic worker at Gimbels and Buddy's love interest.
  • Mary Steenburgen as Emily Hobbs, Walter's wife, Michael's biological mother and Buddy's stepmother.
  • Daniel Tay as Michael Hobbs, Walter and Emily's son and Buddy's younger half brother.
  • Ed Asner as Santa Claus, who finds Buddy in his sack and gives him to Papa Elf to raise.
  • Bob Newhart as Papa Elf, Buddy’s adoptive father.
  • Faizon Love as Wanda, the manager of Gimbels and Jovie's boss.
  • Peter Dinklage as Miles Finch, a vertically-challenged, best-selling children's author who attacks Buddy for (mistakenly) calling him an elf.
  • Amy Sedaris as Deb, Walter Hobbs' secretary.
  • Michael Lerner as Mr. Greenway, Walter Hobbs' controlling and uncaring boss, the CEO of Greenway Press.
  • Andy Richter as Morris, an associate of Walter Hobbs.
  • Kyle Gass as Eugene Dupree, an associate of Walter Hobbs.
  • Artie Lange as the Gimbels Santa.
  • Jon Favreau as Dr. Leonardo, the Hobbs family's pediatrician.
  • Matt Walsh as Eye Witness.
  • Peter Billingsley as Ming Ming, the head elf of their workshop. (uncredited)
  • Mark Acheson as a mailroom worker.
  • Jane Bradbury as Susan Wells. (only in photograph)
  • Patrick Ferrell (Will Ferrell's brother) as a security guard #1. (cameo)[citation needed]
  • Patrick McCartney as a security guard #2.




David Berenbaum's screenplay underwent uncredited rewrites by Scot Armstrong,[6][7] Chris Henchy,[8] and the writing team of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell.[9][10][11]

Terry Zwigoff was offered to direct, but declined due to his commitment on another Christmas comedy of 2003, Bad Santa.[citation needed] Jon Favreau eventually directed the film.


Jim Carrey was originally attached to portray Buddy, but turned down the role.[12]


Director Jon Favreau in 2014.

Filming took place in New York City, as well as in Vancouver and at Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, British Columbia.[13][14]

The film makes heavy use of forced perspective to exaggerate the size of Buddy compared to all the other elves. Stop motion animation was employed for certain sequences.[13]

Zooey Deschanel singing was not in the original script, and Favreau added it when he learned she was a singer.[13] When Buddy starts singing in the middle of Santaland at Gimbels, the lyrics were not scripted and Will Ferrell improvised the song on the spot.[15] Even though Buddy is an excellent gift wrapper, Will Ferrell is not, and needed someone else to wrap all the gifts in the movie.[15]


Apart from snow, most of the computer generated imagery (CGI) in the film was created by Rhythm & Hues Studios.[16] Buddy's belch after drinking a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola was real, as dubbed by voice actor Maurice LaMarche.[17]


Box office[edit]

Elf grossed $173.4 million in North America and $47 million in other territories for a total gross of $220.4 million, against a budget of $33 million.[1]

The film opened at number two at the box office in the United States with $31.1 million, finishing behind The Matrix Revolutions, also in its first week.[18] It topped the box office on its second week of release, beating out Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. In the United Kingdom, it opened in second behind Love Actually.[19]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 83% based on 193 reviews, and an average rating of 7.03/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A movie full of Yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family comedy, and it benefits greatly from Will Ferrell's funny and charming performance as one of Santa's biggest helpers."[20] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 64 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[21] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.[22]

Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars, calling it "one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece."[23] Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, saying: "Ferrell makes the damn thing work. Even though he can't get naked or use naughty words, there's a devil of comedy in Ferrell, and he lets it out to play. Director Jon Favreau has the good sense to just stand out of his way."[24]


The film was nominated for nine awards and won two.[25]


  • 2004 ASCAP award – Top Box Office Films (John Debney)
  • 2004 Golden Trailer – Best Comedy


  • 2004 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award – Favorite Movie
  • 2004 MTV Movie Award – Best Comedic Performance (Will Ferrell)
  • 2004 PFCS Award – Best Live Action Family Film and Best Use of Previously Published or Recorded Music
  • 2004 Teen Choice Award – Choice Movie Actor – Comedy (Will Ferrell) and Choice Movie – Comedy
  • 2005 Golden Satellite Award – Best Youth DVD

Critics' rankings[edit]

Elf is often ranked among the greatest Christmas films,[26][27][28][29] and airs annually on television during the holiday season. In 2017, Fandango users rated Elf the best Christmas film of the 21st century.[30]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD and VHS on November 16, 2004, and on Blu-ray on October 28, 2008. It is also available for the PlayStation Portable with Universal Media Disc. This is one of the only 2 DVD's to be PG rated under the Infinifilm label.


A Broadway musical based upon the film ran on Broadway during the 2010 Christmas season. It was directed by Casey Nicholaw, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan.

The musical officially opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on November 10, 2010, after previews from November 2, 2010. The cast included Sebastian Arcelus as Buddy, Amy Spanger as Jovie, Beth Leavel as Emily, Mark Jacoby as Walter, Matthew Gumley as Michael, Valerie Wright as Deb, Michael McCormick as Mr. Greenway, Michael Mandell as Store Manager, and George Wendt as Santa. It ran through to January 2, 2011.[43]


The soundtrack was released on New Line Records in November 2003 in the United States[44] and in October 2005 in the United Kingdom.[45] It was certified Gold by the RIAA in April 2011.[46] Having sold 695,000 copies in the United States, it is the second best-selling film soundtrack/holiday album hybrid since Nielsen SoundScan started tracking music sales in 1991, behind only The Polar Express.[47]

  1. "Pennies from Heaven" – Louis Prima
  2. "Sleigh Ride" – Ella Fitzgerald and the Frank De Vol Orchestra
  3. "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" – Lena Horne
  4. "Sleigh Ride/Santa Claus' Party" – Ferrante and Teicher/Les Baxter
  5. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" – Leon Redbone/Zooey Deschanel
  6. "Jingle Bells" – Jim Reeves
  7. "The Nutcracker Suite" – Brian Setzer
  8. "Christmas Island" – Leon Redbone
  9. "Santa Baby" – Eartha Kitt and the Henri René Orchestra
  10. "Winter Wonderland" – Ray Charles
  11. "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" – Eddy Arnold
  12. "Nothing from Nothing" – Billy Preston

The score to the film, composed and conducted by John Debney and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, was released by Varèse Sarabande.[48]

Animated special[edit]

Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas is an hour long stop motion animated musical television special based on the film and the musical of the same name. While Edward Asner was the only cast member from the film to reprise his role, the rest of the cast included Jim Parsons as Buddy, Mark Hamill as Walter Hobbs, Kate Micucci as Jovie, Rachael MacFarlane as Emily Hobbs, Max Charles as Michael Hobbs, and Gilbert Gottfried as Mr. Greenway. It was produced by Warner Bros. Animation and first aired on NBC on December 16, 2014. It features songs from the musical.

Video game[edit]

A video game based on the film was released on November 4, 2004 for the Game Boy Advance, developed by Human Soft and published by Crave Entertainment.[49][50] The game follows the same plot as the movie, within the game, the player has to collect candies throughout each level while avoiding various objects and polar bears. The game however, received mixed to negative reviews by critics.[49]

Possible sequel[edit]

About 10 years after the movie came out, in September 2013, Mental Floss reported that Favreau was interested in making a sequel to Elf, entitled Elf 2: Buddy Saves Christmas, but it was later cancelled.[51] Later in December 2013, Ferrell stated that he does not want to make a sequel to Elf.[52] Despite this, during an interview in January 2016, Favreau stated that a sequel to Elf could possibly be made.[53] The next month, however, Ferrell reiterated that it is unlikely that the sequel will happen and stated that he was not interested in reprising his role.[54]


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  6. ^ Falcon, Jesse (February 1, 2007). "Old School's Scot Armstrong". Cracked. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
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External links[edit]